Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Neighbor helped kids who escaped Connecticut school shootings

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Gene Rosen had just finished feeding his cats Friday morning when he saw six small children sitting in a neat semicircle at the end of his driveway near Sandy Hook Elementary School.

A school bus driver was standing over them, telling them things would be all right. It was about 9:30 a.m., and the children, he discovered, had just run from the school to escape a gunman.

"We can't go back to school," one little boy told Rosen. "Our teacher is dead. Mrs. Soto. We don't have a teacher."

Rosen, a 69-year-old retired psychologist, took the four girls and two boys into his home and over the next few hours listened to their stories and called their frantic parents.

Rosen said he had heard the staccato sound of gunfire about 15 minutes earlier but dismissed it as being from an obnoxious hunter in the nearby woods.

"I had no idea what had happened," Rosen said.

He walked the children into the small yellow house he shares with his wife.

He ran upstairs and grabbed an armful of stuffed animals. He gave those to the children and sat with them as the two boys described seeing their teacher being shot.

It wasn't clear how the children had escaped harm, but there have been reports that their teacher, Victoria Soto, 27, hid some of her students from the approaching gunman. The six who turned up at Rosen's home apparently had to run past her body to safety.

"They said he had a big gun and a little gun," said Rosen, who didn't want to discuss other details the children shared.

Rosen called the children's parents, using cellphone numbers obtained from the school bus company, and they came and retrieved their children.

As Rosen sat with the children, one little boy brought a moment of levity.

"This little boy turns around and … he says, 'Just saying, your house is very small,' " Rosen said. "I wanted to tell him, 'I love you. I love you.' "

Rosen said it wasn't his training as a psychologist that helped him that day — it was being a grandparent.

A couple of hours after the last child had left, a knock came on his door. It was a frantic mother who had heard that some children had taken refuge there. She was looking for her little boy.

"She thought maybe a miracle from God would have the child at my house," Rosen said. Later, "I looked at the casualty list, … and his name was on it."

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